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Perry Recommends Clinton Reject Panel’s Base Closing Plan

July 5, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Pentagon is urging that a proposed base closing list be revised to save thousands of jobs in California _ a state crucial to President Clinton’s re-election strategy. Defense Secretary William Perry has embraced a compromise that would turn half the jobs over to private business.

California’s economy would be hit hard by the recommendations of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission. The nation’s most populous state has 54 electoral votes.

Perry briefed the president Wednesday on the commission’s extensive package of proposed base closings and realignments, Mary Ellen Glynn, a deputy White House press secretary said after the 80-minute session ended. The commission’s recommended changes are estimated to save the Pentagon $19.3 billion over the next 20 years.

In three previous rounds of base closings, the independent commission’s recommendations were accepted in their entirety by the White House.

Glynn said Clinton got ``a very thorough briefing″ from Perry, Deputy Defense Secretary John White and Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She said the defense officials briefed Clinton on their recommendations for changing the commission’s package. A more formal Defense Department recommendation will be presented later in writing.

Glynn said Clinton had made no decisions on this. ``Everything is on the table today,″ she said without discussing the specifics of the Pentagon’s recommendations.

Defense officials speaking on condition of anonymity had said earlier that Perry would recommend that Clinton press for just the one change in California. The Pentagon is willing to accept the commission’s dozens of other recommendations, the officials said.

The Perry compromise is intended to defuse a politically charged debate over the proposed closing of McClellan Air Force Base and the loss of its 11,000 military and civilian jobs. McClellan, near Sacramento, is the largest of six military bases in California that the commission has recommended be closed.

The Perry plan would not stop McClellan from closing, but it would be designed to keep roughly half of the 11,000 jobs in the area by allowing the Air Force to hire private companies to do the base’s depot maintenance work, the officials said. It is presumed the work would go to California aerospace firms.

Chuck Pizer, a spokesman for the base closing commission, said the Pentagon had discussed its proposed compromise with the commission’s staff but not the voting members.

``Quite honestly, we stand behind the recommendations we have sent to the president,″ Pizer said.

Although the Perry plan is intended to ease the economic blow to California, the state’s leading politicians were quick to criticize it Wednesday.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, released copies of a letter to Clinton in which she said the idea of farming out depot maintenance work that is now done at McClellan would not guarantee the jobs stayed in her state.

``I believe that anything short of keeping McClellan Air Force Base fully open is unacceptable,″ Feinstein wrote, adding that Clinton should reject the commission’s base closure list outright.

``He should reject it in its entirety ... rather than try to fashion some kind of half-baked political solution,″ said Gov. Pete Wilson, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president.

The White House does not want to be accused of interfering with the base-closing commission’s work, since the panel was created to keep politics out of the economically painful process of shutting down Cold War-era bases. Yet that is the charge being leveled by House Speaker Newt Gingrich and others.

In Marietta, Ga., on Tuesday, Gingrich suggested Clinton was trying to shore up political support for 1996 by rescuing the McClellan depot maintenance jobs.

``Given the president’s desperation about California, you can understand what he’s trying to do,″ Gingrich told a news conference before a Fourth of July parade.

``I think with every base on that list, you could ask the question, `Why doesn’t the president care about us?′ If the purpose is to have honest people meet as a commission, what does it mean to have politicians interfere?″ Gingrich said.

The commission recommended that McClellan be closed and that its communications and electronics maintenance work be transferred to Tobyhanna Army depot near Scranton, Pa. The commission said the Air Force had more depot maintenance capacity than it could justify keeping in this era of tight defense budgets.

Since McClellan’s loss would become Tobyhanna’s gain, the idea of scrapping the transfer of thousands of jobs to the Scranton area drew quick criticism from the Pennsylvania congressional delegation. Sen. Rick Santorum, a Republican, wrote to Clinton on Wednesday urging he accept the commission’s original plan.

``Any compromise or special deal for McClellan would be a blatantly political maneuver targeted toward nothing but winning California’s 54 electoral college votes,″ Santorum wrote.

The defense officials said Perry’s compromise would give the Air Force the same flexibility in privatizing depot maintenance work that the base-closing commission already has recommended in the case of Kelly Air Force Base, Texas, which it also said should close. The Pentagon is not challenging the Kelly recommendation.

Clinton has until July 15 to accept the commission’s list of recommendations or return the list to the commission for revisions. The panel then would have until Aug. 15 to make the suggested changes or not. If Clinton accepted the resubmitted commission package, it would go to Congress for approval or rejection. If he rejected it, no bases would be closed.

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